public relations

A little press goes a long way for a new small business. But many startups won’t have much of an advertising budget, so public-relations efforts will likely fall upon the owner and staff. Here are some tips for getting the word out and boosting your chances to earn attention from the media.

Find the right journalists — To catch the eye of media members, you should first pay close attention to what they do. Read your local newspaper, watch local television stations and tune in to local radio. Scour the Web and look for niche sites and publications. Who is writing or talking about things that can relate to your product or service? Murray Newlands explores this in a piece for entrepreneur.com: “When you show that you took the time to learn what they generally cover, you show you are serious about earning the press. You also show respect. Get to know them as people, not just someone you can sell to. No one likes to be sold to.”

Get your message together — Think about what makes your business different, even if it’s not a groundbreaking house of innovation. If there are news events that relate to your business — especially if your product or service can act as a solution in these cases — you might have a better shot at attracting attention. As Jennifer Maloney writes for entrepreneur.com, “What is your philosophy or unique approach to tackling the problem in your market? Offer the press a fresh perspective. Be consistent and vocal about relevant issues in your space that are open for debate. Draw a line between your past experiences and why you’re in a special position to comment on these problems. This can open you up to many thought leadership opportunities in the press that can benefit your brand.”

Make the right pitch — Your business may be incredibly interesting to you and your family and friends, but not so much for journalists who see hundreds of press releases clog their inboxes each day. So striking the right direction and tone is important. Here’s an example: Undercover Tape, which is a small, soft adhesive that covers up clothing tags and seams that can irritate your skin. In an interview with thegrommet.com, cofounder Michelle Isrow describes her approach, which earned mentions for the product in Real Simple and Daily Candy. “It took about three months to get the pitch right once we began practicing,” she says. “I used words like ‘problem solver’ and ‘innovative.’ I worked to differentiate Undercover Tape from other products that reporters were hearing about on a daily basis. We needed to stand out! It was an advantage that we have a product that is both innovative, multifaceted, and solves a problem. I often used an example from my own two children so other parents could relate.”

Follow up — When journalists express interest in your pitch, do what you can to reel them in. If it’s a product you’re pitching, provide samples if possible. And while you don’t want to come off as a pest, stay on the mission. Remember, journalists often have a multitude of projects and stories at one time, so maintaining contact is key. Marge Zable Fisher wrote about this for smallbiztrends.com: “This is the part that trips up most do-it-yourself publicists and even PR folks. Once the media has expressed interest in your product or service, you must be persistent in contacting them. Often you’ll need to follow up with them several times, via the phone or email, until you have gotten media coverage.” Keep in mind that journalists are under no obligation to write about your product or service, so be sure to stay professional and keep a helpful tone in these efforts.